It was a highly productive day for several Pirates en route to a 7-2 slamming of the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday at PNC Park, from Nate McLouth nearly hitting a ball out of the stadium to Adam LaRoche's three RBIs to brother Andy's three hits to continued bullpen excellence.
And yet, somehow, it was Doug Mientkiewicz who set the scene ablaze with a late and fairly insignificant pinch-hit appearance that culminated in his shouting match with St. Louis second baseman Aaron Miles and, ultimately, benches and bullpens clearing.
"Hot Sunday afternoon," Pirates manager John Russell replied with a grin when asked what might have sparked Mientkiewicz.
Surely, as Randy Johnson and so many others in Major League Baseball have learned, it does not take much.
- Game: Pirates vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Ross Ohlendorf (0-1, 8.10) vs. RHP Hiroki Kuroda (8-10, 3.93).
- Key matchup: In his first 40 games with Los Angeles, Manny Ramirez has 14 home runs and 41 RBIs, making him Major League Baseball's most productive midseason acquisition through 40 games since 1949, when Hank Sauer had 15 home runs and 47 RBIs for the Chicago Cubs.
- Of note: The Dodgers finally are taking control of the West Division, having won 11 of 13 and gained eight games in the standings over the past 16 days.
There was one out in the eighth inning when Mienktiewicz, after being introduced to the standard warm ovation from the 18,994 on hand, hustled out an infield single against reliever Josh Kinney.
Freddy Sanchez then bounced to Miles, who was close enough to tag Mientkiewicz ... except that Mientkiewicz beat him to it, essentially, by swatting the ball out of his glove. Everyone was safe.
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa emerged to argue with second base umpire Gary Darling but not much. Curiously, La Russa also appeared to gesture to Mientkiewicz to come toward him and join the conversation. Mientkiewicz stayed on the bag.
"I went after the glove to try to knock the ball out," Mientkiewicz explained of the play. "I've played second base for one start in my career, and I got plowed on my rear end. ... I didn't deliberately smack at him. I just kept running and tried to hit the glove. That's what you're supposed to do. I didn't try to hurt him."
"It was a dirty play," Miles said. "I just thought it was a double play. The rule is, if he's trying to hit the ball out of the glove, it's interference."
That is accurate, and Mientkiewicz acknowledged trying to do that. But not that he was doing anything dirty.
The two spoke on the spot.
"I told him I didn't think it was appropriate at the time of the game," Miles said.
"He said he'd do the same thing ... if the game was close," Mientkiewicz said of Miles. "And I said, 'Well, it's not like we're up 12.' We were up five, and I think we all know that a five-run lead for us is not exactly insurmountable."
The Pirates led, 7-2, at the time.
The next batter, Luis Cruz, softly lined to shortstop Brendan Ryan, who tossed to Miles to double off Mientkiewicz. And it was there that Miles said something to Mientkiewicz while quickly darting away, prompting a shouting rebuttal from Mientkiewicz and, within seconds, more than 70 uniforms spilling onto the diamond.
"When I caught the ball, I had a little fire burning in me and I said, 'You're out. You're gone. You're out of here,' " Miles recalled. "Obviously, he's a fired-up type of player, and it got to him, too, I guess."
Mientkiewicz seemed particularly irked that Miles zipped away.
"I'm not going to talk about it with him, then, two seconds later, have him run his mouth running off the field," Mientkiewicz said. "If you have a problem, come talk to me."
Not much else came of it, except that three Cardinals were needed to restrain reliever Ron Villone from going after Mientkiewicz after he and first baseman Albert Pujols briefly spoke.
Mientkiewicz and Villone were teammates with the New York Yankees last season.
"I was going over to talk to Albert about it," Mientkiewicz said. "Albert said, 'Dougie, what's the matter?' I started walking to him, and Ron really took exception to it. That's his prerogative. I don't know what I've ever done to Ron Villone."
"We're not teammates now," Villone said. "He got away with a play, and I'm upset that we lost."
Russell did not elaborate on the matter, but La Russa sounded incensed.
"The guy swiped the ball. He swiped it, and the umpires didn't see it," La Russa said. "Mientkiewicz ... that's a [expletive deleted] play in a 7-2 game. He's acting like he's innocent. The tape doesn't lie. ... But that's a small aside to getting beat today and getting beat over the weekend."
No one would dispute that: The Cardinals, who had fancied themselves still in contention entering this weekend, were swept in three.
For the Pirates, that meant their first three-game winning streak since taking four in a row July 21-24, and their first series sweep since taking three in Houston in that same stretch.
They burst open a 6-0 lead through two innings off Brad Thompson, half those RBIs coming from LaRoche on a single and two-run double in the second. Brandon Moss had an RBI single in each inning.
McLouth's dagger came in the fourth, when he launched a 2-0 fastball from fresh reliever Randy Flores over the Clemente Wall's seating section for the 7-2 lead. It landed on the interior riverwalk and might have left the stadium but for striking a canopy there.
Oh, and it went into a stiff wind.
"I thought I hit it pretty good," McLouth said.
After getting embarrassed offensively in Houston, scoring nine times with 17 hits in losing all four games, they scored 24 with 40 hits against the Cardinals.
"It's nice for everyone to score some runs," Russell said. "We had some good pitching, too."
Jason Davis, summoned for a spot start, gave up a run over three innings. T.J. Beam followed up with an identical line. Romulo Sanchez, Sean Burnett and Craig Hansen put up zeroes.
The Pirates evened their record at PNC Park to 37-37. The only season in which they had a winning record at PNC was 2006, when they went 43-38.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published September 15, 2008 4:00 AM